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The Experience Factory

During the literature study of my Ph.D. thesis I came across an interesting concept, which I would like to briefly write about here. Even before the term knowledge management became popular, Victor R. Basili presented his experience factory [1].

The principle behind that is that a software developing organization should gather the gained experience and make it accessible to learn from it in the future. To archive that, the whole idea builds upon a division of responsibilities. On the one hand there is the project organization, which covers the project work and tasks. On the other hand is the experience factory, which encapsulates the whole experience recording and leveraging for the whole organization.

In the experience factory all kinds of experience that can be externalized and made available are analysed and synthesised. That includes the outcome of project reviews or documentation. This is then taken and bundled into standardized packages, in order to make the experience easier to access. Developers can thus access these experience packages in the experience base, once they feel the need for further input. At the end of every learning process, the developer has to feed the gained insights back into the experience base, to make it richer. The methodology thus applies the two basic activities in knowledge management: collecting experience and learning to improve.

The experience factory is a widely known concept and implemented in different organizations. The most famous one is the Software Engineering Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which documents a dramatic increase of reuse across different projects [2]. It can be seen though, that it is difficult to implement and contains a huge organizational overhead. But the principles applied make a lot of sense. It is worth thinking about it, I suppose.

[1] Victor R. Basili. »Software Development: A Paradigm for the Future«, Proceedings of the 13th Annual International Computer Software and Applications Conference (COMPSAC 89), 1989.

[2] Victor R. Basili and Gianluigi Caldiera. »Improve Software Quality by Reusing Knowledge and Experience«, Sloan Management Review, Fall 1995.

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